Guest columnist Michael Seward: Coaches failed students, not MIAA — and hypocritical for legislator to demand accountability

The Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House MATT STONE/BOSTON HERALD/TNS

By MICHAEL SEWARD

Published: 02-21-2024 9:10 PM

Belchertown coaches failed to submit paperwork for the girls’ swim team, preventing them from competing in a tournament. Somehow it’s the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s fault, according to state Rep. Aaron Saunders.

Although the state Legislature, among the least transparent and accountable in the country, has obstructed the state auditor’s efforts to hold them accountable, and has dragged its feet passing fundamental transparency rules, Saunders used his bully pulpit to call for a rules change and acknowledged a need for more transparency and accountability for a high school sports organization.

Swim team coaches reportedly had a “miscommunication” between themselves that resulted in the girls’ team not meeting a registration deadline. One coach submitted the boys’ team’s paperwork and thought the other submitted the required paperwork for the girls’ team. The other coach thought the girls’ team’s paperwork was submitted along with the boys’.

That was according to a parent who was likely provided that excuse from the coaches or school administrators. Or maybe the dog ate the paperwork. Whatever the actual story, it was an egregious failure by the coaches.

The coaches’ carelessness had terrible consequences for dedicated student athletes to whom they had a responsibility. The coaches are accountable for their negligence, not the MIAA. The MIAA simply adhered to its policy as determined by member schools.

“The MIAA has consistently enforced and upheld predetermined deadlines for the entry into postseason competition, as approved by standing committees and sports committees made up of individuals from its members schools,” a statement from MIAA published in the news article posted by Saunders said.

School administrators and the coaches didn’t respond to a reporter’s request for comment. It seems that was too much accountability for them, but Saunders chimed in on Facebook to blame the MIAA.

“It is past time that the MIAA stop punishing student athletes for the paperwork oversights of adults,” Saunders complained on his office’s Facebook page that included a link to a news article. “It is clear that the current leadership structure of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is ether incapable or unwilling to make the necessary changes. Steps must be taken to change that.”

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His post was followed by a comment that he acknowledged with a “like.”

“They have no accountability,” the comment read, referring to MIAA. “They operate almost in secrecy and they’re punitive when a district challenges them.”

But the MIAA is accountable and their rules and other documents are available on their website. Even proposed rule changes along with the respective yes or no votes are available, which is more than can be said for the state Legislature, which has obstinately obstructed attempts by State Auditor Diana DiZoglio to hold them accountable, while failing to pass transparency legislation for all three branches of the government of the commonwealth in a timely manner.

Politicians like Saunders are quick to validate the frustrations of students and parents regarding accountability without holding themselves to the same standard. You won’t find one post on his Facebook page boldly demanding the Legislature implement transparency measures that would hold him and his fellow lawmakers accountable as he did with a high school sports organization.

Massachusetts is one of the least transparent states in the nation. The governor, Legislature, and judiciary claim to be exempt from public records laws at the public’s detriment. As previously reported in the Gazette, a transparency bill is slowly creeping its way through the Legislature, after years of inaction and obstructions.

The Sunlight Act’s slow progress is telling. Our Legislature has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to pass legislation quickly, even with only a few lawmakers present and without public notice or public hearings. But they drag their feet when it comes to their own accountability. Legislating something as basic as government transparency is an easy thing to do.

To paraphrase Saunders: It is clear that the current leadership structure of the state Legislature is either incapable or unwilling to make the necessary changes. Steps must be taken to change that. Members of the state Legislature lack the integrity to hold themselves to the same standard they demand of everyone else. We should demand better.

Michael Seward lives in Sunderland.